Open letter to Lee Smolin

Open letter to Lee Smolin, November 20, 2019

- Translated by Easy Translate -



Kind Sir,

Over the past year I have been informed of your approach and I have been able to see the full value of your prospective work that may lead to a significant paradigm shift in the field of physics. I have carefully read through your books Time Reborn (Dunod for the French version) and Einstein's Unfinished Revolution (Dunod for the French version and Allen Lane for the American version), and have found them extremely enriching. I am only able to deal with a certain number of points in this open letter. You present yourself as a realist, in that you are seeking to discover what is actually happening in the physical world. On this point, you explain that: “…, simply affirming realism is not enough. A realist wants to know the true explanation for how the world works. There would be no sense in believing that the world has a detail explanation, and not being interested in what that explanation is." (chapter 13 of Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Allen Lane). This is also my position on a philosophical level, but the potential implications of this in terms of a causal analysis remain to be discovered. Causality is not just the relationship between the predecessor and the subsequent, it is also the principle that accounts for the existence of things, for their structure and their behavior.


A paradigm shift for physics in prospect


In this letter I shall outline a principle on which a realistic concept of space-time and movement may be based; this principle undoubtedly being, as far as the physical world is concerned, the most fundamental and the most general that can be found. I will explain my position on this point a little later. Attached to this letter you will find my two most recent works, Et si Einstein s’était trompé sur un point capital dans son analyse aboutissant à la relativité restreinte? ( and Et il survolait les eaux vers une nouvelle vision du monde physique? (, which both deal with this topic. The two works are connected, but the second one is more complete. Chapters 11 and 12, focusing on the equivalence principle and a relational approach to the initial concepts of physics are to be further improved and completed. My desire here is to present an idea without claiming to give a comprehensive account.


In chapter 14, “First, principles” of Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Allen Lane, you write the following:

“Our strategy will then be to proceed to our goal of inventing a new fundamental theory in four steps: first, principles; second, hypotheses (witch must satisfy the principles); third, models (witch illustrate partial implications of the principles and hypotheses); then last, complete theories. Putting principles before theories raises an interesting question:  Where do you find a language to state the principles, and a context to motivate and critique then?  You don't want to use the language of existing theories because the whole point of the exercise is to get beyond them. Einstein would never have invented general relativity had he restricted himself to reasoning within the language of Newtonian physics.


Mathematics can sometimes provide new ideas and structures, and so is often a help. But new mathematics is usually not enough to invent new physics; otherwise Bernhard Rieman or William Kingdon Clifford would have invented general relativity. This is where a knowledge of philosophy can be the essential element, because a person with a philosophical education has in their toolbox a plethora of ideas and methods coming from the whole history of human beings' attempting to think about the fundamentals of our description of the world. And when it comes to basic questions like the nature of space and time, that history is rich with useful arguments and strategies to be tried out. So Einstein was not alone when he faced the need for new notions of space and time.”


Earlier in the text, you state:

Einstein knew what he was going when he introduced special relativity: he began his 1905 paper with two principles and deduced consequences directly from then. It is worth noting that the idea of unifying space and time into a single entity called space time was not part of Einstein's original conception of relativity. The idea of space time was introduced two years later by his teacher Hermann Minkowski as a model which exemplified Einstein's principles.”


Now, it can be demonstrated that the invariance of c implies not only a relativity of simultaneity from an operational point of view, but also a relativity of simultaneity at the physical level, which must be thus formulated if we take into account the thought experiment of Einstein’s train:


Therefore, when the two observers are at the same distance from the two light sources (when the two observers are opposite each other), the light ray at the back of the train appears to exist at the back of the train in relation to the observer at the railway station and does not appear to exist in relation to the observer on the train (this is the relativity of simultaneity at the physical level). In relation to the observer on the train, it will exist when the observer on the train is further away, and he can be much further away if the light sources are very distant. This is what is involved in the thought experiment of Einstein's train, even if it is not explicitly stated. Just follow the reasoning to understand this” (Philippe de Bellescize, Et il survolait les eaux vers une nouvelle vision du monde physique?, page 16)


Through the relativity of simultaneity at the physical level so formulated, it leads to the Block Universe, where all states of the universe coexist and time is already written. In this vision of things, there no longer is an actual course of time. Indeed, we can observe, in the example given above, that the time of the observer on the train is already written. The title of your book Time Reborn and its contents clearly show that you have perfectly understood the necessity of leaving behind us this representation of the world.

I agree with you on two key points: the idea of quanta of space, and the assertion of a present moment for the Universe.


I am not a scientist, a philosophical journey, without my being aware of your research at the time, has led me to the idea of quanta of space. Although the idea is not precisely formulated in this way, it is clear in the introduction to my first book, À la recherche de la théorie de l’Univers, published in 1990. I reached this conclusion following the discovery, through a philosophical approach, of the mode of action of the Driving Principle of the Universe, namely an immanent action and, by interrelation according to the determination of the elements. If, in order to cause movement to occur, sometimes we have a relation between the bodies and sometimes a relation between the body and space, how do we pass from one to the other? Hence, once the mode of action of the Driving Principle of the Universe has been discovered, in order to obtain a unified approach to physical forces it is reasonable to believe that a completely relational conception of the space-time is needed. A little over ten years ago I began to realize that this could not be reconciled with the concept of time that is generally associated with special relativity, Eternalism, because, as I am not a scientist, I looked for an objection to this concept of things, until I found an inescapable one: the objection of the shuttle and the missile. I have tried to explain it in the best possible way in my two most recent books which are attached to this letter and available on my website.


In French:


In English:


Summary of the reasoning:


Logic followed in the reasoning:


I believe that many scientists who have been informed of my approach are well aware of the scope of this argument. At present, they do not make it public, perhaps because it's somewhat disturbing for them to admit that something so obvious, "the objection of the shuttle and the missile", has never actually been considered by physics since the birth of special relativity. I have not yet submitted an article to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, but it would probably be necessary to do so, because this objection will make it possible to definitively decide in favor of Presentism. Ideally, such article would be written in collaboration with a physicist. Once we have understood that there is clearly a present moment for the universe, we also discover that an adaptation of the speed of light to the spatial configuration is inevitable, which can lead us to a completely relational approach to space and movement. This adaptation of the speed of light to a spatial configuration should be measurable.


Principle on which a realistic concept of space-time and movement could be based


Once we are free of the concept of time as set out by the two theories of relativity, we need to ask ourselves, on which conceptual postulate should a new concept of space-time and movement be based? In my opinion, we can establish the most fundamental conceptual postulate by discovering the mode of action of the Driving Principle of the Universe. I deal with this issue in my book Et il survolait les eaux vers une nouvelle vision du monde physique? Thus it is one of two things: either the physical world moves on its own, or it does not move on its own, and in this case, there are an unlimited number of ways in which the Driving Principle of the physical world can "behave". It can only act in an immanent and interrelated manner, according to the determination of the elements. This observation may shed light on certain issues that you deal with in your books. For example, in chapter 14 of Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, you say that: “But, as I've already mentioned, pilot wave theory fails to satisfy another of our principles: Einstein's principle of reciprocity. The pilot wave guides the particle, but the particle has no effect back on the wave. So we still have some distance to go.” In the perception of things that I have explained above, the determination of the constituents influences the action of the Driving Principle, although we should also take into account the fact that this principle must, as part of its very nature, establish a relationship between all the modalities of actuation.


Therefore, although this perception of things may seem to be surprising, there would be the "spiritual element" (the Driving Principle), the "material element" (the constituents) and the "physical element" (the immanent and interrelated action of the Driving Principle). Because the Driving Principle of the Universe would act according to the determination of the elements, its action would become physical. Therefore the physical world would be the outcome of the marriage of spirit and matter. There would also be a physical order that is distinct from the spiritual order, because the Driving Principle’s action would take place according to the determination of the constituents. In this context, except in the case of immediate contact, the relation between bodies is physical but not material. Indeed, if we must abandon a purely mechanical approach to the forces, there is undoubtedly no other choice. A material body, in itself, can only act by contact. If another action is necessary, a principle other than quantified matter is necessary in order to account for this relationship. On the basis of this observation I have proven in my book, Le Principe Moteur de l’Univers et l’Espace-Temps, the necessity of a spiritual Driving Principle. Moreover, if there were no principle acting in this way, the various bodies would only be in juxtaposition with each other.


We come to a perception that is quite close to the topological bootstrap. Only some time later did I realized this: « Voici une définition () du bootstrap donnée par Chew : Le seul mécanisme qui satisfait aux principes généraux de la physique est le mécanisme de la nature (); () Les particules observées (…) représentent le seul système quantique et relativiste qui peut être conçu sans contradiction interne (). Chaque particule nucléaire joue trois rôles différents : 1) un rôle de constituant des ensembles composés ; 2) un rôle de médiateur de la force responsable de la cohésion de l’ensemble composé, et 3) un rôle de système composé. Dans cette définition, la partie apparaît en même temps que le tout. La nature est conçue comme étant une entité globale, non séparable au niveau fondamental » (Basarab Nicolescu, Nous, la particule et le monde, Le Mail 1985, pages 41-42).


Proposed translation:


Here is a () definition of the bootstrap, given by Chew: The sole mechanism that meets the general principles of physics is the mechanism of nature (); ...The particles observed. The absence of force on a body in a state of inertia does not mean that there is no actual cause of the movement. Only quantum and relativistic systems can be designed without internal conflict. ... Each nuclear particle plays three different roles: 1) constituent of the compounds; 2) mediator of the force responsible for the overall cohesion of the compound; 3) composed system. In this definition, the part appears, simultaneously, as the whole. Nature is conceived of as a global entity, inseparable at a fundamental level. (Basarab Nicolescu, From Modernity to Cosmodernity: Science, Culture, and Spirituality, Suny Press 2014, page 89). This must be applied to space and movement.


In Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, you are insistent about the need to return to looking at things in a very fundamental way and to start by defining the principles. Now, the discovery of the mode of action of the Driving Principle of the Universe gives us the possibility of doing this. For instance, we understand that the discrete aspect of space-time is not in opposition to the continuous aspect, or that any movement implies a present cause, the evolution of the relation between the bodies, which will change our conception of inertia and impulse. The absence of force on a body in a state of inertia does not mean that there is no actual cause of the movement. From my point of view, taking into account everything that is implied in a completely relational approach to space, through this, that we will discover the basis for the principle of equivalence. I tackle this topic in my book Et il survolait les eaux vers une nouvelle vision du monde physique?, chapters 11 and 12. This is a crucial point that must be settled if we want to achieve a general theory of the Universe.


I would also like to point out that general relativity does not constitute a completely relational approach to space-time because, in this theory, the evolution of the relation between bodies is not what causes the movement, as should be the case in a completely relational view of space. Furthermore, a relational conception of space goes hand in hand with the idea of a present moment for the universe, which is not compatible with the concept of time connected to the two theories of relativity. Indeed, in order for two bodies to be in relation, they must actually exist and, in a relational approach to space, their relation needs to be actual, otherwise there is no more space. By taking into account the existence of the bodies, we can immediately deduce that we are necessarily within the frame of an absolute simultaneity at the physical level. Indeed, the simple fact that a body exists is the equivalent of saying that it exists vis-à-vis all the other bodies of the physical world. This goes against the principle of relativity of simultaneity at the physical level, as described above in this letter. This is also the reason why it must be said that the world has three dimensions. This doesn’t mean that the way in which each body relates to these three dimensions is identical, as this depends on its position and of the action of the Driving Principle.


In a relational approach to space and movement, certain initial concepts must be defined such as mass, inertia, impulsion and time, from a relational perspective. Within such conception, inertia is an emergent property dependent on the relation to a reference area. Constituting such reference area requires particles that repel each other and, from a different point of view, have attractive properties; otherwise we will not be able to understand the movement as it presents itself to us. In the expansion of this reference area, there is no inertia, which is why this expansion has no limit velocity. A given dimension of space corresponds to a given equilibrium of forces. The progressive change in the equilibrium of forces will be the cause of the progressive expansion of the area. On this basis, we must explain why there is a limit velocity when we have a movement of a body relative to this reference area constituted by the other bodies, and this is where we need to understand the origin of inertia and of the relation between the inert mass and the heavy mass, by which I mean, we must discover the basis of the principle of equivalence.


In the physical universe, we might be led to think that the unity of the whole is made up of the union of the parts, and that the more intense the union of a part is, the more it becomes a mediator of the forces making up the Universe. Mass, in this context, would represent the unity of a body. Said unity would also depend on the body’s relationship to its environment. There would be a relationship between the inert mass and the heavy mass, two forms of relation between the body and space, due to an evolution of the body’s mass. The evolution of the heavy mass would develop the mass of the body, which in turn would develop the inert mass, and all this at the same time. What has just been said, and which should be explained more fully, would be the basis of the principle of equivalence (see chapters 11 and 12 of my most recent book on this subject, chapters which as stated above, would need improvement).


In your work Time reborn you talk about the dynamics of forces as a way of reformulating relativity. I am not an expert on the subject, but I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we must distinguish between the effective size of a body or of the space from the relation between this body and said effective size. It is not the variability of the relation to the distances of a body that means that these distances are ineffective. For example, in the thought experiment of Einstein’s train, the train is not two different sizes, depending on whether we look at the train in one direction or the other, and once we have discovered that there needs to be an absolute simultaneity at the physical level, we can state that the speed of light cannot be invariant in all cases. Based on this statement, we can understand that a simple reformulation of relativity is not enough, because the postulate of the invariance of the speed of light must be called into question, with the idea of absolute simultaneity.




Once we have understood the need to leave behind the concept of time associated with relativity, and once we have discovered the mode of action of the Driving Principle of the Universe, we will be able to move on to discover all the consequences that may be associated with this conceptual postulate. Indeed, the Driving Principle of the Universe either acts or doesn’t act in the stated way, but in the first case, we have an unavoidable principle on which to build a new concept of the space- time. Without help from physicists, this work will remain undeveloped. As you have come quite far in tackling the issues I have mentioned, you in particular should be able to see all the consequences of this philosophical reasoning. As I have pointed out above, I have been able to address only a few elements of your approach in this letter, and I find it very interesting in the light of my own conclusions.


Thank you for preparing physicists for a possible paradigm shift.


Philippe de Bellescize